By Allison Collins
SIDNEY – About 25 people attended a meeting with NY-19 Democratic Congressional hopeful Gareth Rhodes, 29, Friday morning at the Sidney Golf and Country Club.
In cooperation with Rhodes’ camp, members of the Town of Sidney Democratic Committee organized the visit.
Committee member Sue Sklenarik said the Sidney stop was part of a larger, district-wide promise. The visit was Rhodes’ second to Sidney.
“He showed an interest,” Sklenarik said. “He initiated the original request to meet … because he has pledged to get to every town in the 19th District. And he’s made a pledge that, if elected, he will get to every town every year.”
Rhodes, an Ulster County native and former member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff, discussed “commonsense gun laws,” working toward greater environmental protection, tax reform, economic trends and upstate tourism, rural health care and returning government to a “service organization.”
Rhodes expressed his support for universal background checks and safe storage laws, while emphasizing his upstate roots and youth spent hunting.
“There’s no gun violence problem in District 19,” he said, noting that the No. 1 cause of gun-related deaths in the district is suicide, followed by accidental shootings.
Rhodes, who supports renewing the federal ban on assault weapons, said, “We’re not trying to ban guns; we’re trying to outlaw automatic weapons.”
Citing his love of fishing upstate waters and an agricultural upbringing, Rhodes said, his ties to the area strengthen his conviction on environmental issues.
“This is our home, this is our backyard and this is not a partisan issue whatsoever. Environmental issues are important to both (parties),” he said. “If you represent NY-19, you have a moral obligation to be one of the most outspoken members of Congress on the environment.”
Rhodes vowed to work toward seeing fracking and drinking water quality regulated on a federal level. Additionally, in press materials, he promised to be “a strong voice for honoring our obligations under the Paris Agreement and tackling the climate change head-on.”
Rhodes, who attended CUNY City College on Pell grants and state-issued aid for low-income families before attending Harvard School of Law in 2015, said, if elected, he would vote to repeal the recent tax bill.
“I would much rather see the wealthy taxed at a higher rate,” he said, “to allow lower-income Americans to get a tax cut and … return to fundamental fairness.”
Though he outlined challenges facing rural business owners such as poor cell phone service and unreliable internet connectivity, Rhodes said, progress in niche markets leaves him hopeful for the region’s economic future.
“There are so many good things happening,” he said, noting the advent of microbreweries, hops-growing and specialty crops. “Sometimes we only talk about the issues, but there is so much progress being made.”
Connection issues, he said, are something he views as part of returning government to a service organization.
“The government … was always supposed to be a provider of services,” he said. Calling the patchiness of upstate service availability in this day-and-age “mind boggling,” Rhodes said, “These are things the government can do. We should regulate the internet like a public utility.” Recalling being at a disadvantage in his youth because of a lack of internet availability at home, he added, “These issues are personal.”
Rhodes again emphasized his belief in government facilitating universal services while discussing health care.
“There are unique needs to rural health care,” he said, “but it shouldn’t be this dire. The government should be helping forge connections to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Several times, Rhodes, whose employment in Cuomo’s camp included work as an intern, advance man and deputy press secretary, expressed his displeasure with the job Rep. Congressman John Faso is doing. Faso and Cuomo have long traded barbs.
If nominated, Rhodes said, he hopes Faso’s polarizing record endears moderate, would-be Republican voters.
He commented: “We’ll get them on our side this time.”
Sklenarik said she and committee members thought the visit “went very well.”
“He’s a squeaky-clean candidate,” she said. “He’s very personable and he was very upfront. He took questions from the floor and didn’t seem to dodge anything.” She added: “He made clear what issues are important to him.”
Rhodes is one of seven Democratic candidates seeking the party nomination in NY-19, which covers all or part of 11 upstate counties. After the meeting, he toured the Amphenol facility in Sidney.
Rhodes and other Democratic Congressional hopefuls will participate in a forum at SUNY Oneonta Sunday, April 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the HIRC Lecture Hall. Additionally, Rhodes will speak in Delhi May 12.
Voting in the district’s Democratic Congressional Primary takes place June 26.
To learn more, visit GarethRhodes.com.